1 Corinthians 10:1-5

I have been asked to give a brief exegesis of this passage from the original text according to its grammar, syntax, and context. I am happy to do so to the glory of God and the edification of the saints. I will write a detailed commentary on each word or verse but give an overview of the meaning of the passage.  

The Text 
The first word of 1 Cor. 10:1 is “for” and reveals that the KJV chapter division is in error. Pauls’ discussion actually began in chapter 9.  Thus chapter 10 is a series of illustrations and applications of what Paul stated in chapter 9. If this is not understood, no valid interpretation is possible. In this light, we begin our translation with 1 Cor. 9:24.

1 Corinthians 9:24-10:1-13

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run,
but only one person receives the prize?
Run in such a way that you may win.
Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things.   
They then do so to receive a perishable wreath,
but we an imperishable wreath.
Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim;
I box in such a way, as not beating the air;
but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly,
after I have preached to others, I myself should be cast off.
For I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, that our fathers were:
all under the cloud and all passed through the sea; and all were  baptized
into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all  ate the same spiritual food; and
all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were
all drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them;
(and the rock was Messiah.).        
Nevertheless, with most of them God was not well-pleased;           
for  they were laid low in the wilderness.
Now these things happened as examples for us,
so that we would not crave evil things as  they also craved.
Do not be  idolaters, as some of them were;
as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink, and stood up to  play.”
Nor let us act immorally, as  some of them did, and  twenty-three thousand fell in one day.
Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the serpents.
Nor grumble, as some of them did, and were destroyed by the  destroyer.
Now these things happened to them as an example, and  they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall.



Part Two

  1. The subject that Paul has in view in chapter 9 is the moral and doctrinal apostasy that afflicted the church at Corinth.   Sexual immorality such as prostitution and damnable heresies such as denying the resurrection of the dead had torn the church into pieces.  Paul reminds them that those who “persevere unto the end be shall be saved.”  It is not how you begin but how you end that determines whether your profession of faith was real or bogus.
  2. Both Calvinists and Arminians agree that professing Christians can and often do fall away from the faith unto eternal perdition.  This is a sad fact of life we have all witnessed far too often.
  3. Paul introduces several illustrations from the Olympic games: the marathon, boxing, and the others to demonstrate:
    1. You will win the prize only if you make it to the end. If you stumble morally or doctrinally and fall before reaching the end of your life, your profession of faith is vain.
    2.  Winning the prize requires you to exercise self-control over your body as well as your mind.
    3. You have to follow the rules of the game if you want to win the prize. 
    4. You must aim at winning and not just wander around aimlessly.
    5. Don’t waste your life boxing shadows. Make winning the prize your goal.
  1. Paul then uses himself as an example. He “buffets” his body to keep it under control, i.e. he practices self-control by not giving in to fleshly desires. 
  2. Why does he “buffet” his body? Lest, after all the years of preaching, he himself could be disqualified from winning the prize by not running the race unto the end of his life.
  3. If even the apostle had to persevere to the end to win the prize, then certainly the Corinthians could not exempt themselves.
  4. Paul then turns to Old Testament history to illustrate the need to avoid apostasy.
    1. The Jews who followed Moses out of Egypt are used by Paul as a type of the Corinthians who followed Christ out of paganism.
    2. Just as Christians begin their profession of faith at baptism, the Jews had their “baptism” when they went through the Red Sea.
    3. This is a reverse pesher. Instead of taking an OT passage and using it as an eschatological foreshadowing of some NT event or doctrine, he takes Christian baptism and uses it to recast the crossing of the Red Sea as a “baptism” of the Jews of the Exodus. Thus “baptism” is used as a symbol of the beginning of the Christian journey to heaven just as the crossing of the Red Sea was the beginning of Israel’s journey toward the promised land
    4. The Jews who had their “baptism” at the Red Sea, except for two men, all died and went to hell. Thus the Corinthian Christians must not be presumptuous that they cannot fall away from the faith and perish like the Exodus Jews did. Those who assume they are too good to fall are the first to fall.
    5. Paul lists the ways the Exodus Jews fell away during their forty years in the wilderness.
      1. Idolatry
      2. Immorality
      3. Tempting God
      4. Grumbling
    6. He selects the very sins that the Corinthians had fallen into.
    7. He then exhorts them not to follow the example of the Jews and perish like them.


Comments for the Commentators

Our interpretation is in line with the classic commentaries. 

The conjunction for joins this verse to the preceding context (chap. 9) and indicates a continuation of that discourse. [1]

Having expressed his own anxiety lest, with all his labors for others, he himself should fail of approval, he proceeds to substantiate his apprehension by referring to the case of the fathers. The connection is indicated by γάρ [2]

For (γαρ [gar]). Correct text, not δε [de]. Paul appeals to the experience of the Israelites in the wilderness in confirmation of his statement concerning himself in 9:26f. and as a powerful warning to the Corinthians who may be tempted to flirt with the idolatrous practices of their neighbors. It is a real, not an imaginary peril.[3]

Both cloud and sea represent “the element in which their typical baptism took place.”[4]

Wayne Meeks argues in detail that the section vv. 1–13 is “a literary unit, very carefully composed prior to its use in its present context. For convenience I shall call it a homily, without wishing to beg the question of its pre-epistolary Sitz im Leben.”16  The argument is not only that it supposedly conflicts in tone and direction with 8:1–13 and 10:23–31 (see the introduction to 10:1–31), but also that it contains a distinctive variety of intertextual resonances with OT passages, themes, and symbols of importance to contemporary Judaism including “the following Rock, the meaning of ‘spiritual food’ and ‘spiritual drink,’ ” and themes associated with Wisdom, for which the manna and the rock were symbols in Philo.17  Symbols associated with the Exodus wilderness narratives include the cloud (Exod 13:21), the sea (Exod 14:21–22), the manna (Exod 16:4, 14–18), the spring (Exod 17:6), and apostasy (Exod 32:6). [5]

At the time the earlier comments of Weiss and others which identified 10:1–5 as “a midrash” underline the character of vv. 1–6 as a unit.20  [6]

The coupling of the cloud and the sea with the verb baptized underlines the redemptive dimension, just as πάντες underlines participation in, and identification with, those redemptive events.[7]


The apostasy that afflicted the Corinthian Church is much like the apostasy of the church in our day.  Gross immorality and heresies abound on every hand. Divisions and strife tear so many churches apart. The Lord and His glory are ignored or dragged through the mud.

It is a shame that some people have attempted to twist the passage to prove (sic) infant baptism.  But Paul was not discussing the mode or subjects of water baptism. He was illustrating the danger of apostasy and making the point that spiritual privileges do not guarantee salvation.

Since the crossing of the Red Sea was the official “beginning” of the Jews’ journey to the Promised Land, and baptism is the official “beginning” of the Christian’s journey to Heaven, he described the Exodus as the Jew’s “baptism.” 

Paul then listed the privileges the Jews enjoyed during their journey such as the angel’s bread, the meat, and the water from the rock. Despite these privileges, they all perished except for two men. In the same way, despite all the gospel privileges the Corinthians enjoyed, they too would end up in hell if they fell into apostasy. 

Baptism does not guarantee the salvation of the one baptized any more than going through the Red Sea guaranteed entrance to the Promised Land.  Those who teach baptismal regeneration should avoid this passage as it refutes their claim that baptism guarantees the salvation of the one baptized.
Those who argue that 1 Cor. 10:1-5 is a proof text for infant baptism point out that when the Jews went through the Red Sea, there were no doubt infants. Thus those infants were in a sense “baptized.”

The problem with this line of reasoning is that carts, pets, donkeys, horses, unbelieving adults, pagans, etc. also went through the Red Sea. Thus they also were “baptized” in the exactly the same sense the infants were.
I am not aware of any Paedobaptist churches that baptize pets, cars, bicycles, the non-Christian neighbors next door, etc. Thus the attempt to use the Exodus as a proof text to support infant baptism is completely bogus.   

[1] Kistemaker, Simon J. ; Hendriksen, William: New Testament Commentary : Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids : Baker Book House, 1953-2001 (New Testament Commentary 18), S. 322
[2] Lange, John Peter ; Schaff, Philip ; Kling, Christian Friedrich ; Poor, Daniel W.: A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures : 1 Corinthians. Bellingham, WA : Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2008, S. 196
[3] Robertson, A.T.: Word Pictures in the New Testament. Oak Harbor : Logos Research Systems, 1997, S. 1 Co 10:1
[4] Robertson, Archibald ; Plummer, Alfred: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians. New York : C. Scribner's Sons, 1911, S. 200
16  Meeks, “ ‘And Rose Up to Play’: Midrash and Paraenesis in 1 Cor 10:1–22,” 65.
17  Ibid., 64; cf. 64–78. The following symbols are listed by Conzelmann, 1 Cor, 165.
[5] Thiselton, Anthony C.: The First Epistle to the Corinthians : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 2000, S. 722
20  Weiss, Der erste Korintherbrief, 249–50.
[6] Thiselton, Anthony C.: The First Epistle to the Corinthians : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 2000, S. 723
[7] Thiselton, Anthony C.: The First Epistle to the Corinthians : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich. : W.B. Eerdmans, 2000, S. 724